Beatrice Alemagna's Unique and Charming Picture Books October 31 2018
Every month we blog about an illustrator that we love, giving you the opportunity to learn more about your favourite artists' backgrounds and influences, or to discover great picture books you may not have heard of. We've covered everyone from the witty Swedish author and illustrator Sven Nordqvist to our beloved Quentin Blake. This time we’ve gone for one of our consistent favourites, contemporary picture book maker Beatrice Alemagna.
Alemagna is one of the most acclaimed illustrators working today, and every book she releases seems even more uniquely beautiful than the last. Her philosophical and artistically daring books include the modern classic A Lion in Paris, and one of our favourite books published last year, On A Magical Do Nothing Day.
Beatrice Alemagna was born in Bologna, Italy in 1973, and according to her own website, she decided at age eight that she would be “a painter and writer of novels”, whatever the cost. Alemagna is a self taught artist, she never attended art or design college; everything she knows she learned on the job, from experimenting at her desk. Her illustrations are completely unique, and her work is not constrained by any one style. Alemagna manages to retain a recognisable aesthetic through all of her work, but for each new book she utilises different materials. Her illustrations have used collage, cutouts, paint, textured paper, transparent elements and coloured pencils. She uses traditional media rather than digital, and her mixed materials give her work layers of texture.
Research and reconaissance
As well as experimenting with form, Beatrice Alemagna does a lot of background research for each new picture book. In an interview for Picturebook Makers she revealed that her book The Marvellous Fluffy Squishy Itty Bitty took six years of reflection and two years of solid work to complete! It tells the story of a kind little girl called Eddie, who searches high and low for the perfect birthday present for her beloved mother. She thinks her mother would really like a Fluffy-Squishy-Itty-Bitty, but she's not yet exactly sure what that is... The story was partly inspired by the exploits of Pippi Longstocking, a childhood hero of Alemagna's. The book's dedication in English is a quote from Pippi, "Children need a little order in their lives. Especially when they can order in themselves!"
As part of her research for The Marvellous Fluffy Squishy Itty Bitty, Alemagna took dozens of photographs of shop fronts and windows around the world, wherever she travelled. Her exacting research blends seamlessly into the book, its illustrations are full of extremely detailed shop fronts and interiors. Each shop that Eddie visits on her quest has its own individual character.
Alemagna has said she wanted to capture a sense of lightness in this book. Eddie’s little quest reflects the lightheartedness of childhood days, and the luminous pink colouring of Eddie’s jacket matches the fluffy little squishy creature she eventually finds for her mother. Everywhere you look in this book there is light, from the sun glinting on a water fountain to the warm smiles of the shopkeepers. The ultimate light at the end of the tunnel for Eddie is the squishy, fluffy creature she finds in a bin. This character, who is called “dodu” in the original language version, is the first thing Alemagna designed when developing the book. Children and adults alike will love the detail and life on every page of The Marvellous Fluffy Squishy Itty Bitty.
A Lion in Paris
Our absolute favourite Beatrice Alemagna book is probably her best known one, A Lion in Paris. A lonely lion decides to leave the savannah in search of excitement in the big city, and catches the train to Paris! Alemagna told finelittleday.com that this book is probably her most personal, though she didn’t realise it at the time, “I made those drawings nearly without being aware of that. When one connects strongly one's feelings, one's ideas with what one is making, one doesn’t understand what happens at the very moment when it happens”. Like the lion of the title, Alemagna has made Paris her home.
Many of Alemagna’s books contain themes along the same lines as those in A Lion in Paris. She told Picture Book Makers that her interests lie in stories of “travel, departure, the search for something, and accepting oneself. I think, deep down, I always want to tell the same story: a fragile being that finds great strength within himself.”
In its form as well as its content, A Lion in Paris gives the reader space to think. It’s presented in an unusually large format, with separate pages for the text and illustrations. Alemagna doesn’t like to be constrained by any one format or style, and she allows each story to find its own form, constantly reinventing herself as an artist, even at the risk of alienating her existing fans. She's has been making books for fifteen years and says that every time feels like the first.
Little and Big
Alemagna work defies easy classification. Alhough she is seen as a children’s author, her work is enjoyed by a lot of adults. Our older customers, especially artists and designers, love her books and buy them as art books for their own collections. Books like What Is A Child? are philosophical enough to appeal to readers at later stages in life, especially those re-examining childhood through raising their own children. What Is A Child? explores the meaning of childhood, innocence and growth through a series of portraits of children and meditative text.
Alemagna's books are also loved by their prime audience, of course! Her stories are full of fun, and children love them. Little Big Boubo is perfect for the youngest readers, especially those who've just become siblings. When Boubo introduces himself at the start of the book, he wants to impress us with what a big boy he is. He tells us how he has learned to do things for himself, and he’s not a baby anymore. But the end of the book shows us that no matter what, Boubo will always be his mother’s little boy. This book would make a perfect gift for a little one who’s learning how to be a big brother or sister after the arrival of a new baby.
Another great book for slightly older children is On A Magical Do Nothing Day, perfect for kids addicted to phones and games! A little girl goes to a remote cabin with her mother who is working on a deadline. The mother wants the girl to go outside and get way from her gameboy, but disaster strikes when the girl drops her game in a pond! After a while though, she looks around and discovers that nature has plenty of it’s own games and secrets to reveal.
Beatrice Alemagna is a truly unique artist, and we’re very proud to be able to carry a wide selection of her books. Her work exemplifies the stylistic range of continental European illustrators working right now. We hope the growing popularity of her books in Ireland will encourage readers to seek out books that are a bit different.
Words by Sophie Meehan.